Progressing clinical academic careers

9 December 2015        

Picture of BHF Clinical Research Fellow Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan stood in front of an MRI scanner which she uses in her clinical research.

Despite many clinical researchers advancing to leadership positions, they still face widespread barriers to their progress as both clinicians and academic researchers according to a new MRC-led review to which we contributed.

The review details the experiences of more than 400 clinicians - including cardiologists - who applied for clinical research training fellowships or intermediate clinical research fellowships from us or these other medical research funders: the MRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences, Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust. The review explores how these fellowship applicants became interested in research, the career pathways they have pursued, and what they felt helped or hindered their progression as a clinical researcher.

The importance of clinical researchers

Clinical academics are in a unique position, straddling the worlds of clinical practice and academic research. In order to embark on a career as a clinical academic, clinicians can apply for a fellowship to support their training and development. These are offered by us and many other research funders, including those above which undertook the review.

Are you an aspiring clinical researcher? Find out about our grant funding.The review consulted fellowship awardees as well as those whose applications had been rejected, and in both cases the majority contribute to research activity in some form in their current role. People with a fellowship were more likely to hold an academic leadership role now and to have secured significant further funding. The review includes how these awards contributed to their career progression.

Enabling progression

The review highlights the importance of research funding, personal mentorship and tailored careers guidance in enabling aspiring clinical academics to progress, along with a number of wide-spread barriers they face. Those taking part reported that maintaining research activity, the inaccessibility of relevant careers guidance and support, and a lack of alignment in organisational support to combine clinical duties and research time were particular concerns.

The review makes a number of recommendations for research funders and other stakeholders in clinical education and training in order to maintain the pipeline of early-career clinical academics, and ensure seamless, coordinated support for clinical and academic progression.

Download the review here.

Our thoughts on the review

Our Senior Research Advisor, Dr Shannon Amoils, said:

"This review highlights the many challenges faced by early career clinical academics, who are combining a busy schedule of clinical training or practice with a research career. This cohort brings a unique skill set and a clinically relevant knowledge base to cardiovascular science, and nurturing the next generation of cardiovascular clinical academic is of paramount importance to the BHF. 

"As the review highlights, personal fellowship awards are an important enabler for a successful academic career. In line with this, and as part of our new strategy, we are committed to providing flexible funding  schemes for talented doctors who are pursuing a research career."

The future of our research

 Find out how our new research strategy will help beat heart disease sooner.

Explore our strategy